Termites are bad news for your home and the trees surrounding it.
But can they damage a garden the way they destroy wood-framed houses?
Termites don’t just eat wood – they eat any form of cellulose they can get their hands on. Sources of cellulose include live plants, so termites in your garden can devastate your plants. Getting rid of them without poisoning your plants can also be difficult if you don’t know the proper steps.
Termites in the Garden and How To Get Rid of Them
Termites usually feed on dead and decaying food sources. Their natural role is to help break down fallen trees and other plant material on forest floors.
While they tend to prefer dead plants, termites will also infest and feed on live plants. Vegetable patches, flower beds, and potted plants can all become targets for termites.
A termite colony can make quick work of your green spaces. While they take time to severely damage wood structures, they can kill living plants rather quickly.
Termites are attracted to your garden for two reasons: plenty of food sources and high moisture levels.
Most gardens use soils that retain a lot of moisture and are full of tender plants for the termites to munch on, making it the perfect spot to set up a colony.
The roots and stems of garden plants are the most vulnerable, as termites can completely hollow them out, causing the plant to wither and die.
Ridding your garden of termites can be tricky, and using harsh chemical pesticides can kill your plants just as easily as it will the termites.
It’ll also kill every other insect and animal in your garden. The lizards that feed on pest insects and the bees pollinating your vegetables won’t be spared.
Generally, you want to avoid using pesticides to eliminate termites in your garden. So how should you go about stopping a termite infestation?
Getting Rid of Termites in Your Garden
As a temporary measure, you can locate and remove the soil that contains the termite nest. Once you dispose of the nest, you effectively strand the termites in the garden.
This generally won’t stop the colony from starting back up or keep other colonies from encroaching on your garden later, but it can temporarily save some of your plants.
One of the best things you can do to eliminate termites and prevent future termite infestations is to treat your soil with nematodes.
Nematodes are essentially roundworms. They’re non-segmented, parasitic worms that typically reach 1/500 of an inch in length.
They’re safe around humans, pets, and plants. They pose no risk to you but are a major risk to termites.
Nematodes hunt down larval and soft-bodied pests like termites and grubs. They don’t harm larger insects like bees and won’t damage plants or make your vegetables inedible.
The best part about nematodes is that they work quickly and are easy to get. You can purchase nematode products with full instructions from most local gardening stores.
Then all you need to do is water the area and avoid applying fertilizer or pesticides for a bit.
Nematode treatments can be done as often as necessary to remove or control garden pests.
In addition to nematode treatments, termite bait is another effective way to control an infestation.
Bait stations are usually easy to use and are an effective way to contain the spread of any poisons that could harm your plants.
Most bait stations will use a slow-acting poison that includes borax. Borax is a natural salt that, in low doses, won’t harm the plants in your garden.
The termites are attracted to the bait, eat it, then take it home to feed the colony. The poison spreads through the colony and slowly kills off all the termites.
Bait stations are a large component of a termite maintenance plan since they can be installed anywhere, and they’re best when they’re placed nearby what you want to protect, be it your home or garden.
You can install bait stations yourself or call a pest professional for help. Regularly check them to ensure the traps contain bait and are in good condition.
One preventative measure to stay on top of is removing dead or decaying material from your yard and garden.
Fallen trees, limbs, dead bushes, or leftover stumps can all attract termites.
Buried wood is another big thing to keep an eye out for.
Try to use wood mulch as little as possible. The fragments are good termite bait and can attract them to your garden.
There are two good options if you want to use termite – killing spray.
Vinegar is acidic enough to kill termites on contact. Mix half a cup of vinegar with the juice out of two lemons and spray it around your garden.
Orange oil is another amazing termite killer. You don’t need to mix it with anything – just spray it around your garden regularly.
Both vinegar and orange oil are natural termite-killing options that dissolve termites on contact, and they’re fast, effective, and relatively inexpensive.
Neither poses a threat to your plants, making them the best option for a natural and safe termite spray.
Raised Bed Gardens
For those with raised-bed gardens, termites will likely be attracted because of the old wood used in the framing.
All of the above methods can effectively eliminate or prevent termites, but there are different things to consider with raised beds.
You’ll mostly see damage on the side boards of the beds after a termite infestation. Try to remove and replace the sideboards without damaging your garden.
Moving soil away from the boards you want to replace before hammering into it will greatly reduce the chances of damaging your garden.
When you replace the board, consider using pressure-treated timbers. Termites won’t eat pressure-treated wood, so building raised beds with it will decrease the likelihood of a termite infestation.
While some may be concerned about arsenic or other toxins leaching into their soil, this is usually unlikely. Plants don’t take up arsenic or other heavy materials unless the soil is deficient in phosphorous, which compost can easily account for.
Pressure-treated wood is also considered safe for gardening and residential use.
For flower beds or aesthetic gardens, toxins aren’t much of an issue as they don’t kill your plants. Growing vegetables for consumption is another story.
While they are considered safe, if you’d rather not risk using pressure-treated wood, you can use nematode treatments, spray vinegar and orange oil, and use bait stations to deter or eliminate termites.
Termites can quickly devastate any garden once they start a colony.
You can use natural insecticides like vinegar and orange oil to kill them off, utilize bait stations to deter colonies, or apply nematode treatments to keep your garden healthy and safe for your plants.